Hey guys, welcome back! Today is a warbler that is unique in its appearance, making it one of the easiest to ID….in spring that is. Fall is a whole other story. In spring, the bay-breasted is a unique mix of gray, black, cream, and red-brown. No other warbler shares a color scheme like this. In fall, they become a very drab olive-yellow with very few distinguishing markings, save for some slight red-brown on their flanks (if you’re lucky.) They are one of the poster childs of “confusing fall warblers.”
Bay-breasted warblers aren’t seen too often during migration, but are plentiful in their breeding ground in Canada. They have a specialized diet of spruce budworms. These little critters metamorphose into moths, but in their larvae state are often considered pests. So specialized are the diets of the bay-breasted warbler, that when there is a particularly serious infestation of budworms, the bay-breasted populations increase dramatically. Of course, the opposite is true as well; when there are few budworms, bay-breasted populations drop.
I remember the first bay-breasted I saw. I was in Central Park. I had been trying to see one since I began birding, but Central Park only ever seemed to get one or two birds each spring. I was in an area of the park known as Tanner’s Spring with my colleague Chris. Suddenly, there it was. Unmistakeable. I was pumped. Funny enough, I saw another later that week. I saw a third bay-breasted shortly before I left NY. In St. Louis I saw a number of them feeding in the bald cyprus trees at the Gateway Arch. It wasn’t until I moved back to Ohio that I saw one in the fall. Mixed in with other members of the “confusing fall warblers” club such as the blackpoll warbler, ID was challenging to say the least. Having a camera certainly helps. If you can get a good picture in the field, you can examine it later and sometimes ID a bird you weren’t sure of after the fact. Next up, a very cool, sleek bird that lives in its own condos. See you then!